Monday, January 31, 2011
The first time I ever heard about Cacao Mexicatessen was from reading an article somewhere about their duck carnitas tacos. Those tacos sounded so delicious that I filed the name of the restaurant in the back of my mind as a place to hit up when I got a chance. A year later, I finally got a taste of those Duck Carnitas Tacos (duck confit, avocado, vinegar, onion, radishes and chile oil) at the 2010 East LA Meets Napa Event and in the process also sampled their Wild Boar Chorizo Verde Taco (ground boar, Mexican spices, avocado and pico de gallo) as well. Wow! They were absolutely delicious and I loved the thickness of the handmade tortillas. I can't believe I waited a year to try their food.
A month later, I finally made a trip Cacao Mexicatessen's actual restaurant in Eagle Rock and in fact, I went there 3 times within a month and a half. That's pretty unusual for me because generally, it'll take me months before I re-visit a restaurant, let alone weeks. Walking into Cacao, I could see it really was also a working deli. Available for purchase were prepared foods, cheeses, tortillas and various other Mexican foods.
Ordering at Cacao means perusing a menu near the counter before placing your order. Since I already tried the duck carnitas and wild boar tacos, I opted to order 3 other tacos from their menu along with a couple of other items. One of those items was a Cucumber Agua Fresca. It was just a tad sweet, but still very refreshing and I loved the added touch of the fresh cucumber slices added to the drink.
The other item was their Mexican Corn on the Cob (grilled white corn, queso cotija, lime aioli and powdered chili). The sweetness of the corn and the tart, spicy, salty flavors of the condiments really made this corn sing on my palate. If you're planning on eating the whole corn, I'd limit myself to just one or two tacos because it's quite filling.
Now let's talk tacos. The three I ordered all came on one plate. I took a bite out of the Tocino en Chocolatado Taco first. Made with house cured bacon, salsa de cacao, creme, bean puree and Serrano chilies, I thought these ingredients made this a more unique taco. The salsa de cacao had a slight bitter and sweet taste to it which went well with a little bit of heat from the Serrano chilies, but then the creme did a good job of softening all the flavors together.
Second to receive my undivided attention was the Chicarron de Pato (fried duck skin, cabbage, radish, onion, cilantro and salsa verde). The funny thing about this taco is that if I hadn't known ahead of time, I may not necessarily have identified the skin as fried duck skin. The skin didn't taste "ducky" per se, but regardless, crunchy skin, crunchy cabbage, radish and everything else made for a delicious taco.
Third but not least was the Venison a la Yucateca (shredded venison, achiote, habanero, red onion and cilantro) The ingredients were quite complimentary to the venison with the achiote providing a hint of earthiness, the habanero with a bit of heat, the cilantro adding some pepperiness and finally, the red onion with just a hint of sweetness.
For my second visit to Cacao, my drink of choice was the Strawberry Agua Fresca. and fresh strawberry slices topped the drink.
Again, I tried 3 different tacos, but for this meal, we also shared some sides. One was the Mole Fries. I wish the fries themselves were a little thinner and a little crispier, but the tasty mole sauce still kept me coming back for more.
One of the board specials that night was the shoestring onions with red mole sauce and chopped green onions. I liked the dish overall, but found it to be a bit greasy and that definitely took away some of the enjoyment from eating it.
The first taco that I tried after both sides was the Cochinita Pibil Taco (smoked pork in achiote, citrus and yucatan spices topped with pickled red onions and cilantro). I was just a tad disappointed in this taco primarily because of the pork which was a little chewier than I would have liked plus it tasted just a little bland. It needed more of the citrus for added flavor. The pickled red onions though were a great touch.
Of the six vegetarian tacos on the menu, I tried the Flor de Jamaica Taco (hibiscus flower with melted cheese, guacamole and pico de gallo). I would have never thought of hibiscus flower as a taco ingredient, but it definitely worked for me. The fact that they used milder-flavored ingredients to frame the strong tartness of the hibiscus was well thought out. Other ingredients may have ended up being too competitive which would have contributed to jumbled flavors.
The last taco of the evening was also a board special and it was the Taco de Vampiro de Chicarron de Pato which was basically a layered taco. The bottom layer had Mexican cheese and cebollitas and the top layer had fried duck skin, guacamole, radish, pico de gallo, cotija cheese and salsa. I couldn't get into this particular taco. There just seemed to be an overkill of ingredients and everything just seemed a bit messy.
For my third visit, I went with their Horchata, which didn't do much for me at all. It had a grainy texture that was unappealing plus it was a bit watered down. It's not a drink I'd order again.
Other than sharing Chips and Salsa, the food focus for this meal was definitely just on the tacos and again, I ordered 3 different ones.
First up was the Filet Mignon Taco (tender diced filet mignon topped with caramelized onions, cilantro, Serrano peppers and chili oil). This was simply a good tasting taco. Nothing special, but I ate it up. My one complaint was that there was just too many onions.
Next was the Camarones Enchipotlados Taco (tiger shrimp in chipotle citrus garlic-sauce topped with cilantro-lime cremolato). Of everything on this taco, I fell in love with the cilantro-lime cremolato. The tart-peppery notes made my taste buds happy and I could see myself putting that cremolato as a condiment on other dishes as well, maybe, even on bread.
The last taco of this post is the Guajolote Taco (turkey, green pipian sauce, pumpkin seeds, cotija cheese, onion and cilantro). I have to say that I was surprised that I enjoyed it as much I did. The turkey meat was tender and moist and the pumpkin seeds and green pipian sauce added a nutty sweetness to the taco that was on the mark.
Overall, I really have to give high marks to Cacao Mexicatassen. The fact that they have so many tacos to choose from with unique ingredients really speaks well of their creativity and considering that most of the ones I tried were absolutely delicious speaks to their cooking skills. I think there's still about 11 more on the menu that I still need to check out and that doesn't count their weekly taco special which is only available for one week before it's gone. Cacao is a place I'd be more than happy to recommend to others and one of the few places that I'd consider visiting several times a year.
1576 Colorado Boulevard
Los Angeles, CA 90041-1441